Posts Tagged With: God

What is your religion?

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Recently, I spoke to a middle aged woman who was genuinely interested in yoga as a health practice. Though, she felt that yoga was interfering with her religion, since she was raised as a Roman Catholic. I felt it was better not to start a discussion about yoga and religion, instead I suggested trying Pilates or Yogalates, a fusion of yoga and Pilates. Some religious leaders actually forbid practicing yoga, but allow their followers to do a stretch class (not mentioning the word yoga); a class focused on the physical practice of yoga or asanas and the lack of any Sanskrit words or links to (other) God(s).

Most yogis would agree with me that yoga is not a religion. I would classify it more as a holistic ancient health practice. T.K.V. Desikachar stated: “Yoga was rejected by Hinduism, because yoga would not insist that God exists. It didn’t say there was no God, but just wouldn’t insist there was.”

Though, yoga has similarities with a religion; for example it involves spiritual experiences and includes a moral code (the yamas and niyamas). So maybe we should classify yoga as a spiritual practice? Honestly, If I’ve to fill in a questionnaire which includes asking for my religion, most of the time I’m hesitating. Am I Buddhist? Or a Hindu? No, I am not. I’m yogi, but that is not a religion. But for me it is my lifestyle and my personal practice. My belief system is based on my inner guru and ‘outside gurus’ who remind me of the universal wisdom. Some bhakti yogis consider ‘Love’ as their religion. At the same time religious people can experience God as Love.

According to Wikipedia; “Religion is an organized collection of belief systems, cultural systems and world views that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the Universe. From their ideas about the cosmos and human nature, they tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle”

What do you think? Is yoga your religion? Or are you a Catholic/Hindu/Muslim/Atheist/Jew practicing yoga? Or do you think it doesn’t matter at all?

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Find Love in unexpected places

While I tried to calm my overactive mind by a stroll along the beach, I was happily surprised by the following:

Let Love find you

Let Love find you

What a beautiful present! I felt much better straight away about my decision to go for a walk and my guilt started to disappear slowly. Guilt about not applying for jobs, studying my yoga Teacher’s Training course preparations, writing blogs or other useful tasks. At the same time inspiration arrived for my next blog. Once again I learned that relaxation is beneficial in a lot of ways.

This little sign of love brings me to Bhakti yoga, also called the yoga of devotion or love. The Sanskrit word bhakti is derived from the verb root bhaj, which means ‘to belong to’ or ‘to worship’. Bhakti can be translated into devotional service or pure love. Within this yoga style, your personal relationship with God and emotional fulfillment and wellbeing are your focus points. It is the way towards realization and union of the individual with the universe or the Supreme Soul through acts of love and service. Bhakti yoga leads to the same destination as all the other branches of yoga, but is especially suitable for those who are emotional in their nature and have feelings of love and devotion highly developed. In terms of the five principles of niyama, bhakti yoga is Isvara pranidhana; surrender of one’s actions and one’s will to God. Through practice you can reach a higher state of intelligence and that makes you lose the identity of the self, you become one with God.

Above all, love is the most fundamental drive of every living entity. You cannot be happy without satisfying your desire to love. So let’s LOVE today on Valentine’s Day!

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Balance you life and yoga practice with Sthira and Sukha

Patanjali described yoga asana as “Sthira Sukham Asanam” or ‘a steady, comfortable posture.’ Sthira refers to steadiness and firmness in your yoga practise and sukha involves gentleness, softness and ease. Cultivating steadiness and ease in each pose requires a combination of effort and release. These two Sanskrit words are opposite, but equally important. It are qualities to nurture on and off the mat. Sthira and sukha are complimentary poles, like Yin and Yang and they teach us the wisdom of balance. If you find balance, you will find inner harmony, both in your practice and in your life. The way you practice yoga mirrors the way you live your daily life. Therefore, yoga can be a great tool for developing greater insight into ourselves and the world around us.

Sukha

Sukha can also be translated as pleasurable, joyful, agreeable, easy, comfortable, light, happy, prosperous or relaxed. It is the opposite of discomfort, suffering or pain. By cultivating sukha, you incorporate a light, mindful approach to the asanas. Your pose is joyful and soft.

Sthira

You can translate sthira as stable, firm, resolute, steady, alert, motionless or changeless. The pose must be strong and active, if you would like to embody sthira. It also refers to the ability to pay attention and to be present. It is the opposite of agitation. It includes both physical and mental stillness: a controlled, fully engaged body and a focused mind.

The breath

Finding sthira and sukha in your yoga practice can truly take it to the next level. These qualities are accessible in every asana, but it’s up to you cultivate them. The breath naturally embodies sthira and sukha. You can inhale sthira with each breath and channel this new energy into strength and steadiness. There is a firmness to the inhale, since there is an element of strength to the diaphragm filling and pressing downward. With each exhale sukha or release is possible, since the volume of the diaphragm decreases and the pressure moves up and air is pushed out from the lungs. The breath ultimately represents the quality of each asana and is therefore the best place to begin. If you cultivate steadiness and ease of the breath, your yoga asanas will blossom.

In your asana practice

According to Patanjali, an asana is properly performed when – in the muscles and the mind – there is stability and alertness without tension as well as relaxation without heaviness. If you practice yoga with strength and in a relaxed manner it gives rise to harmony with the physical body. You can look for example at warrior II pose. You keep the hips squared forward with proper placement of the feet which requires balance and grounding. The holding of straight arms further increases the intensity of this pose. Sthira is found with the proper foot position and in the ground of the outer back foot, in sinking down into the pose with strong legs and in the breath. Ease can be found with relaxed shoulders, with a gaze upward, a soft forehead and with each exhale.

Integrating in your daily life

The next challenge is to find this delicate balance between the effort of sthira with the comfort of sukha in the rest of your life as well. A lot of people struggle to find balance in their lives. We feel exhausted, depleted, drained and find it hard to unwind during our free time. The first step is self-study or Svadhyaya (the fourth of the five niyamas). If you learn to recognize when you are out of balance, you can start to change this imbalance. If you bring a balance of sthira and sukha into your life you cultivate a habit of facing difficult moments in your life with a soft heart.

Too much sthira

In our busy society we usually have too much sthira or effort. We’re working too hard and we would like to do too many things after work and as a result we feel tired and exhausted. That is why burn-out is such a common phenomenon nowadays. So how do we incorporate more sukha or ease or lightness into our lives? One important thing is the breath, make sure you breathe deeply. Take time to nourish and nurture yourself, rest and be still through for example meditation and/or pranayama. You will drain yourself if you keep on living a faced paced life. It seems like we lost our patience in this society; everything needs to be done quick and easy; eating, cooking, sleeping, driving and so on. Ready made meals and magnetrons are apparent in almost every household and our children need to be joining at least one sport club and an art class. By giving yourself permission to relax, you will give people around you permission to relax as well. Here are a couple of things you could do to incorporate more sukha in your life: 

  • Practice restorative yoga poses (for sure you will develop more patience)
  • Go on a nature walk
  • Read a book
  • Meditate
  • Enjoy the process of slow cooking

You could also try to bring attentiveness to the action you’re doing and at the same time find a way to relax and be comfortable as well, for example while you’re driving in heavy traffic. In regards to relationships, you could focus on being grounded as well as kind, open and receptive to others.

The next level

If you learn to relax your muscles in the yoga asanas, you will be able to achieve greater comfort. As a result this will allow your mind to calm and makes it easier to focus inwards. Through meditation you can access the higher states of your mind. It is not without reason that the meaning of asana is ‘a comfortable steady seat’. The development of sthira and sukha in your asana practice is a great way to guide the physical body toward becoming more open and receptive to the effects of meditation. Your balanced practice of yoga asanas will prepare you for the next stages: pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. So you can focus on the ultimate goal of yoga; a non-physical uniting with the Self or God and reaching ultimate freedom.

 

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Isvara pranidhana

An English translation of isvara pranidhana would be ‘surrender to the Divine’. The Divine can be described as pure awareness or pure knowing. The last niyama is about letting go of control and surrender to, and love for, the divinity within you. Patanjali defines ‘isvara’ as ‘lord’ and the word ‘pranidhana’ refers to ‘giving up’. Thus, isvara pranidhana can be literally translated into ‘giving up or surrendering the fruits of all your actions to God’. So how do you do that?

The simple advice can be to let go and to stop clinging to the ego, instead trust in the Universe. The ego is the source of frustration, dissatisfaction and tension. This means in practice that you aim to think and act in ways that undermine your ego and bring you closer to pure awareness. It requires that you get out of your head and into your heart. In fact, you can use any activity – from cleaning the toilet to cooking dinner – as a prayer or offering. For each action, it is the intention that is most important. You let go of the outcome and you surrender to the actual action while offering all your work and devotion to the Universe or God.

Another way to practice isvara pranidhana is to completely surrender to the reality of life exactly as it is. This means embracing your life with all its aspects and details with gratefulness. It includes seeing the good in all people, things, conditions and circumstances, even those challenging moments that are associated with pain and loss. Your aim is to act with kindness, compassion and love in all aspects of your life.

Surrendering to your spiritual truth is another approach of interpreting isvara pranidhana. Through intimate listening to your inner voice, you begin to establish a relationship with your inner guidance, your truth. And by means of releasing your fears and hopes for the future, you can be genuinely present in the moment. This requires that you give up your illusion that you know best, instead accept and trust that the way life unfolds may be part of a pattern too complex and beautiful to understand.

Practicing isvara pranidhana means that all your actions – whether body, mind or spirit – are guided by unconditional love and an open heart full of kindness and compassion. It asks you to develop a profound trust in the goodness of the Universe and of all existence within and beyond our limited understanding and existence. So in short: surrender, love and trust.

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Aparigraha

Aparigraha or abstention from greed is one of my favourite yamas lately. You can translate it into avoidance of unnecessary acquisition of objects not essential to maintaining life or spiritual study. The following quote summarizes this yama for me: “living simple so that others can live simple”. You can relate not practising this yama with the enormous difference in material wealth between the so called Western world and the Third world. The world, the universe or God provides us with abundant wealth, but the distribution of wealth and power is done by humans.

Aparigraha involves being happy and content with what we need and not accumulating or collecting unnecessary things. It does not mean that you have to give up all your possessions. Rather, it includes non-attachment in regards to possessions, time, relationships, memories and beliefs. It is about giving up the belief that happiness depends on your ability to hold on to items, things and thoughts. Once you let go of this belief you will find freedom and you realize it does not matter anymore who owns or possesses what. Aparigraha refers to letting go of the fear there is not enough, instead develop faith in the universe and in yourself to provide for the future.

Yoga can teach you to let go and experience life with your arms wide open. But even in your yoga practice you can experience greediness. You would like to be able to ‘possess’/do that difficult amazing looking yoga pose. Other poses you fear, love or hate. Probably without realizing it you attach labels to your yoga practice. If you let go of these labels and judgments, you are able to experience your yoga practice with freshness and subtleness. It will help you to be in the moment; content and mindful. If I find it challenging to let go of my judgements I focus on my breath, my support. Every breath provides me with a new chance to let go of my thoughts and just experience. Just breathe…..

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